writing our wounds

The other day, while writing the sequel to Eidolon Avenue, I found myself facing a familiar fork in the narrative road. That moment when, like it or not, I have to put on the page something I find abhorrent and confusing and wrong. Something painful. Something only the most shattered of souls could even think of doing. Something the story demands, that the story has been building towards, but which still makes my heart wince and my soul sob.

As I said over on Facebook:

…I’ve just ended up on a road I dread because I know what’s coming next and it screws with my head and makes my skin crawl to have to write it. The depravity and pain and wounding and heartbreak is something I simply do not – thankfully – understand or comprehend.

Now, after writing that, a reader who’s familiar with – and thankfully a fan of – my work sent me a PM with a simple question:
How do you write what you write when it’s obviously so difficult to do?
After some thought, this is what I sent back:
Writers, in many cases, as odd as it seems, write what they know, to some extent. A lot of creativity and imagination goes into it, of course. And if you’re writing in a different genre – romance or self-help or something – then, obviously, the arc from personal to page doesn’t bend too dramatically.
But those who write horror are digging into their wounds whether they realize it or not. Only when you touch the darkest, deepest, most vulnerable parts of yourself, your psyche, can you put the worst of the worst fears on the page. And when you write with your body and soul, you feel that worst of the worst. You feel those wounds. You write with blood and tears and dread and hope.
And that’s what readers respond to. There’s a tacit acknowledgement, more subconscious than not, of the courage it took to tell your story. As if the writer’s taken a metaphorical bullet in order to guide the reader, from the safety of the page, into the dark and then safely out again.

After some thought, I suspect the above is more accurate than I realized. And that’s why I strongly believe horror is a necessary genre. And the stories we tell – as dark and f’ed up and terrifying and “wrong” and twisted and boundary-pushing and unique and brave as they are – are as widely accepted and applauded as they are.

We’re the brave ones who forge the trail and cut back the brambles and, torch in hand, show you, the reader, the way into fears you didn’t even know you had. And then help you back to safe ground. Because we’ve been there. We’ve opened the way. We dug the earth with our bare hands to make the trail. It’s our home.

In writing our wounds, we, in some way, help the reader face and hopefully heal theirs.

Then again, this could be the second cup of coffee talking, so-

 #backtowork #writing
Advertisements

one big bloody tent

The Guardian recently ran a piece about what it called the “post-horror” movement. Where the new films coming out were somehow different than what’d come before because, in the writer’s opinion – and I’m gonna simplify it for you – the filmmakers were relying less on blood and gore and more on a sense of dread and quiet scares.

Although it’s always great to see the horror genre being openly and actively discussed – which leads to open, active discussions in the community – I’ve noticed a trend, an annoying trend, that I need to discuss. And it’s basically this:

Horror is one big bloody tent. And to forget that simple, undeniable fact is a disservice to what we – writers, filmmakers, readers – do.

Horror is Saw. Horror is Get Out. Horror is Friday the 13th and The Others. Horror is The Fog and Hellraiser and Nosferatu and Phantasm. Horror is Alien as well as a documentary on the rise of Hitler and the chaos of World War II.

Horror is Anne Rice and Stephen King and dozens if not hundreds of writers – some known, many not – in-between.

Blood. Gore. Mysteries that lurk in the shadows. The creeping dread of something unseen but still felt. The terror of an unexpected, impossible sound coming from the dark. The fear of being surrounded by a group of strangers that could go from docile to deranged in a split second.

You see? Horror can be a great many things. That’s why it’s a genre I love and which speaks to me. You can do almost anything when it comes to horror.

So, instead of laying down a false marker by saying “Well, this was horror back then and this new stuff, now, is post-horror” doesn’t do justice to everything horror was, is and will be.

In fact, one could say that without Bela Lugosi there’d be no Lestat. Without The Texas Chainsaw Massacre there’d be no The Green Inferno. Without The Strangers there’d be no The Purge.

As disparate as these examples seem – and I’m well aware I’ve now become The Guy with All the Lists, but I’m proving a point – the earlier courage of one in some way gave birth to the other. Horror, as a genre, whether it be fiction, film, TV, short stories in magazines, whatever, it’s all tied together.

One drop of blood spilled years ago in some way, somehow, gives birth to a scream heard in the here and now.

That’s why, in my opinion, “post-horror,” as a label or, as I said earlier, some kind of marker, just doesn’t work. New-horror. Modern-horror. Those might work. Maybe. If we absolutely NEED to somehow play with Before/After and categorize things into a haphazard row of unnecessary boxes.

Or, heck, we could just KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid – and just continue calling it what it is:

Horror.

 

nope nah nyet

I pride myself on having a strong work ethic. One of those oh my god he’s so boring all he does is work work work-type of work ethics. I write every day, often balancing several projects – all in various stages of development (active fiction WIP, outline, first draft edit, new script, script polish, etc) – at once while brainstorming not only new projects but also new ways to expand the ones I’m already working on (adaptations, comic books, graphic novels, novelizations, amusement parks).

So it should come as no surprise to say that when I sat down the other morning, coffee in hand, and brought up the Word Doc of the Day, my brain said

Nope

Nah

Nyet.

Yeah. Just drew a huge blank. No words. Nothin’. It was like I was looking at some foreign language I could kinda maybe sorta understand but, in the end, made absolutely no sense.

I switched to a different WIP. That sometimes work to get the gears a’going’.

Same thing. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of where I was supposed to go next on the page or what direction the story was supposed to travel now.

Of course, keenly aware of my self-imposed calendar, I started to very quietly have a full-blown – but quiet – panic attack. Started rescheduling, moving projects around, buying myself a day here, a week – maybe – there. Started feeling guilty for letting people down if something didn’t show up on time or, I don’t know, when they expected it to.

And then I did something I rarely do: I shut my laptop. Just closed it. Left the WIP alone, stood up and took a walk. A long one, actually. Enjoyed the, what’s it called again? the sun?, on my face. The breeze.

In short, I played hooky.

But my creativity demanded it. To run yourself ragged on a self-imposed – I use that word a lot because everything I do is dictated by me; I am my own worst boss – treadmill without touching base with your humanity not only stifles your creative voice, it silences it.

So, in truth, my stories, my characters, their narratives, all stood up and stepped forward to shut me up, steal my voice and get me out of the house.

And what happened when I came back?

Nothing. I took the day off. Shocking, isn’t it? 😁

But, hey, sometimes we gotta be daring and break the rules in order to get those words on the page.

october

He was a skeleton. All that had been soft and round was now sharp bone, withered muscle and loose skin. His brown eyes sat in gaunt hollows of dark flesh, his cheekbones sculpted and lean. “Do I look bad?” he’d say, desperate for me to admit the inevitable. “No.” I’d smile. He’d look away, disappointed with my kind dishonesty.

Only weeks ago, when he was not yet cadaverous, when he could still walk and smile and laugh, we’d driven to Malibu and walked on the sand. And then on up to Zuma to climb his favorite bluff. Up one side, across the top and then down the other, there was a steep trail — hill on one side, a drop to the ocean on the other — that led to a ledge he loved. A small patch of earth clinging to the cliff with a jaw-dropping view of the water below.

He jumped the small crevasse, landing on the patch. His hand to me, I followed, never liking this bit but wanting to please him. And we sat, his arm around my shoulder, ocean below, the sun on the horizon, the sea breeze buffeting us. At one point I heard him sigh. I glanced up. There was a tear in his eye and a tremble in his lip. I told myself it was because of the sun.

Weeks later, in October, the skeleton could no longer move, smile, laugh. He was now in bed, three pillows under his head, two under his back. The lesions feasting on his intestines making it impossible for him to lie flat. His hands swollen and red, no longer able to grip or grasp. His feet swollen and purple, red, black. “My slippers,” he’d say between gasps and moans and sobs. “I’m cold.” And then he’d scream when I tried to put them on, his feet way too big and wounded. So when he whispered again “My slippers,” I lied, assuring him they were already on. “Thank you,” he whispered before falling asleep.

It’d been three days since I’d eaten, the fridge and cupboards bare. Sleep had come in the form of brief cat naps, seated at the foot of the bed, listening for any movement. He’d come back from the hospital only days ago with a shunt in his head and IV tubes in his chest and his arm. A health care worker had come by, once, to show me how to inject the medicine into his head, his chest and his arm. The head was once every two weeks, the chest and arm three times a day. “How old are you?” she’d said, perhaps worried that someone so young had been given such a great task. I’d told her. “And you understand the situation?” I’d nodded, shrugged. Still believed it was a phase and all would be well. She’d sighed and left.

In his less lucid moments, he’d try to bang his head against the wall, pull the tube out of his chest or scratch the tube out of his arm. It was important he do none of these so my days and nights were spent watching him. I could not leave to get food. I could not leave to get a breath of fresh air. To leave was to risk him injuring himself. I used the restroom with the door open, my eyes not leaving him. I still believed this was temporary and he’d be well.

“He’s dying,” the EMT said. It was after midnight. I’d called 911 to have them move him from the bed to the couch. It was easier for me to help him that way. And with the lesions destroying him from the inside out and his feet swollen and weeping, he couldn’t walk or crawl and I alone, exhausted, hungry, weak, didn’t have the strength to move him.

“He’s dying,” the man said again, only softer. As if realizing this was news to me. That I had yet to accept the inescapable. I heard myself speaking. A distant voice sounding hollow, disconnected, somehow cheery, thanking him for his time and apologizing for bothering them. I remember him leaving. The door closing behind him. I remember looking at the familiar skeleton now on the couch and hearing “He’s dying.” And, closing my eyes, refusing to believe it.

I had fifteen minutes. One of his friends had come by to watch him while I ran to the pharmacy to get morphine and then to Subway to get a footlong. And so, weak and dizzy, I had shoved my sneakers on and rushed down the hill to Santa Monica Blvd, filled the prescription and, armed with less cash than I anticipated – the morphine costing more than I expected – barely had enough for a six inch sandwich. If I cut the halves in half and then in quarters, I reasoned, it’d last me a few days. And he’d be better by then, right? At least I was going to eat.

The friend was gone when I got back and Couch Guy was fiddling with the tube in his chest. “Stop!” I said. His hand paused in midair and then rested by his side. Ignoring the dosage, I gave him his first spoonful of morphine and sat on the floor, the sandwich waiting, unwrapped, in front of me. I sighed, too tired and scared to take a bite.

“Jump!” he said, his voice barely a whisper. From somewhere in his morphine haze, he stood on a cliff. “Jump!” he said again. I smoothed his eyebrow with my thumb, willing him calm. He sighed and drifted back to sleep.

Witching Hour. All’s quiet. He sleeps, calm, drugged, peaceful. I watch him. Lean close. Say his name and then “I love you.” I move closer. Press my nose to his, my thumb once again gliding over his eyebrow. “I love you,” I say louder, desperate for him to hear me. He stirs. The eyes open and then close. “I love you, too,” he says and then he sleeps.

The doctor stared at me. He was speaking. We were in the hospital. The emergency room. An hour after that last “I love you, too” he’d gone into cardiac arrest on the couch. 911 was called. The same EMTs from before had arrived, trundled him into the ambulance and rushed him to Cedars. I followed soon thereafter. Chose to feed the cats, Boo and Tuxedo, and then walk down La Cienega in the predawn quiet. Knew he would not die without me.

I had power of attorney over health decisions, or something, the doctor was saying. There was silver in his hair though he looked to be in his forties. A very tan, smooth forties. I said nothing. He was explaining how they could do brain surgery but in his condition he might not survive the surgery and he might not survive recovery and it would be very difficult on his body…I interrupted. Told him “No, no surgery.” He nodded. Paused. The nurses, the other doctor, they all paused.

There was a need to comfort, I suspected. These doctors and nurses, they’d seen this marathon before. Knew I was in the final sprint. Knew my soul was torn and my spirit battered. Knew I was running on fumes and that any touch, any smile, any small act of kindness might break me. So they said nothing, allowing me this final shred of strength.

Friends showed. Family arrived. Wanted me to disappear. To leave. I ignored them, sitting close, claiming my spot and holding his hand. Believed he could feel my thumb smoothing his eyebrow. Trusted it was a comfort though he slept forever lost in a maze of tubes and machines and rhythmic beeps.

He died at 8:24 in the morning.

They wouldn’t let me watch the removal of his body. His family left without a word, acting as if I didn’t exist. His friends had gone before that. I walked down the hall and took the elevator alone. A nurse, one from before, was there when the doors opened. She reached out and touched my shoulder. I bit my lip and walked away. Quickly.

The morning sky was the bluest I’d ever seen. The world around me sharp and bright. Even the concrete at my feet as I marched up Robertson seemed somehow new and different. Everything was odd, but in a brilliant way. I felt hollow and free, the terror of what had just happened not yet elbowing past my hunger and exhaustion and delusion and grief.

I went to Ralph’s. Eyed the microwave dinners but got eight cans of cat food instead and then, realizing I now had a funeral to plan and having no idea how much coffins cost, put two cans back.

And then I walked home. Weeping.

 

the weight of the impossible

A bit of a personal post today. A chance to vent, perhaps. Or just a chance to clarify what I’m feeling right now. And what is that?

The weight of the impossible.

Yeah. Sounds big, doesn’t it? The weight of the impossible? But that’s what it is because, silly me, that’s what I feel driven to achieve.

My choice, my doing, no one to blame but me. I know how high and difficult the climb is and yet I choose to continue. Choose to sacrifice and struggle for the smallest of steps forward. And we’re talking painfully small steps here. Like, laughably small.

And, no, this isn’t one of those “woe is me”-type of deals. Not at all. It is, like I said, a chance to vent and/or clarify what’s making my mood so heavy these days.

The weight of the impossible. I like that phrase. I don’t like how that phrase feels as I live it, but I like the heft of it as I write it. The solidity of the sentence. The cadence and rhythm. It’s a memorable phrase that perfectly captures my present journey.

And, honestly, it’s not like I’m the first doing what I’m trying to do. Thank god! This road is teeming with those who’ve walked before me. Who’ve struggled, fought, failed, fallen, stood up and eventually succeeded. Everywhere I look I see shining examples of the impossible having been done.

Right now, though, I’m surrounded by silence with no clue as to whether or not my efforts are known or seen or appreciated. I think “Yes” but I don’t know. Obviously, and I’m calling a spade a spade here, today is one of those days where the candle flickers and the dark grows darker and the doubt grows deeper.

But I still march on. Like a man in a long tunnel surrounded by deepest, darkest black who keeps putting one foot in front of the other because he knows without a doubt, with a faith that goes beyond reason or present reality, that there is an end, a fantastic end, and if he keeps walking he’ll find it.

That’s me.

So I keep writing, breaking down my long-term goals into shorter term bite-size achievable chunks — I’m somewhat famous for my email bullet lists, by the way — and doing what I can to move forward. Or even just stay where I am because the worst is to slide back. And today, for whatever reason, feels like a day where I slid back. At least in my head.

So, I dig in my heels, narrow my focus and just keep going. Keep pushing. Even if the push is imperceptible and the reward is negligible. Even if what I do now won’t show a result weeks, months, even years down the road, if at all, I just do what I can from where I am. Because that’s all I can do.

But you know what would help?

A sign.

A Yes. An “I hear you.” Or “you’re on my radar.” A “I like your work.” A nod — not even an answer, but a simple nod — that lets me know I’m on the right path. That I’m moving in the right direction. An acknowledgement that would help me find the spark to click Send on yet another email or to dial the phone for yet another unanswered call or make another bullet point list that might never be seen or discussed.

That, any of those really, would be the light shining far, far at the end of the tunnel telling me to keep walking.

See, this, right here, this is what the weight of the impossible does. It tests your faith. Dips you low so you can climb back out. Strengthens your resolve. Allows you to flirt with the possibility of failure knowing that your desire for a different result is stronger. That, even unheard or unseen or unacknowledged, you will fight on, keep pressing, keep asking, introducing, discussing. You’ll keep making those lists and getting the words on the page and brainstorming ways to carve out a space to help make the impossible possible.

But here’s something else I’ve learned: we’re not designed to carry the weight of the impossible by ourselves. This burden is designed to be shared.

And, now that I think about it, that’s what I’m feeling. The need to share what I’m creating with others. Build my dreams with people. I feel like it’s time to stop traveling this road by myself. To stop walking this alone.

Yeah, now that I think about it, that’s exactly what I need.

See? Clarity. I knew there was a reason to write this post. 🙂

 

Breathe

Even if my life feels like

tornado

and I’m all

terrified-smiley-face

I’m still gonna close my eyes, find my courage, jump feet first and

rolling-the-dice

because, hey, if I do nothing, that’s what I get:

Nothing.

And that’s, like, the exact opposite of what I want.

So I gotta

breath-engraving

and then

three-number

                                   …

two-number

                                 …

spongebob-thumbs-up